Conservation at Home

Conservation at Home

Arthur A. Seeligson Jr. Conservation Fund

Since 2001, the Arthur A. Seeligson Jr. Conservation Fund (SCF) has awarded $61,647 to conservation projects fighting to retain Texas’ rich biodiversity. The Fort Worth Zoo manages the fund, which was named in honor of Arthur A. Seeligson Jr., father of Zoo Board Co-Chairman Ramona Bass. Seeligson instilled a life-long love for the land in his family that has been passed down through generations. The Zoo’s Texas Wild! exhibit represents the spirit of the SCF, teaching the importance of land stewardship and of conserving the biodiversity found in our own backyard.

The SCF encourages collaborations between Texas conservation groups and private landowners, and has worked to protect native Texas species such as bobwhite quail, sea turtles and bats. Recently, the SCF awarded $2,500 to the project “Using dogs to find endangered Houston toads (Bufo houstonensis).”

It’s been a long road to recovery for the Houston toad, which has been listed as federally endangered since 1970. This toad’s stronghold is in Bastrop, a Texas county just east of Austin. The Houston toad’s habitat was hit hard when wildfires raged through Bastrop State Park in 2011. The catastrophic wildfires made it all the more important to explore other habitats where Houston toads currently reside.

Though the majority of Houston toads live in Bastrop, many toads also live on privately owned Texas land. The challenge is finding them. Studying toads and assessing population numbers are tedious and difficult tasks. Herpetologists are only able to locate toads during breeding season when they are especially active and vocal. Researchers have yet to find an effective way to locate dormant Houston toads, but the latest SCF conservation program is hoping to change that.

The Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute/Texas A&M University-Kingsville, in partnership with the Houston Zoo, Dogs for Conservation and a private landowner, joined forces to use one animal to help save another. Dogs for Conservation, an organization operated out of Brenham, Texas, is training a scent-detecting dog to react to the scent of a Houston toad. The Houston Zoo, which houses an assurance colony of Houston toads, is carefully collecting scent samples to supply to the program. Precautions are also being taken so the dog learns only to respond to the Houston toad and not similar species, such as the Woodhouse’s and Gulf Coast toads.

The final test will be to take the dog into the field, where it will hopefully lead researchers to wild toads. This portion of the program will take place in Austin County on a private landowner’s property, which harbors a known Houston toad breeding pond. Researchers have several goals for this project: gain a better understanding of the Houston toad’s habitat requirements outside of the breeding season, locate Houston toads in areas where they have not been recorded and estimate Houston toad population sizes. The study will continue through 2013.

Click here for proposal information.


Texas Horned Lizard

Through a partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Christian University and a private landowner, the Fort Worth Zoo located the first reintroduction site that fits the environmental and habitat models needed for Texas horned lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum) survival. Thirteen captive-hatched horned lizards from the Zoo have been released at various ages and tracked to determine the most effective reintroduction methods. Although translocation projects have been attempted, there has never been a successful ongoing horned lizard reintroduction program. Staff continued to track horned lizards with transmitters in recent years. Horned lizards will be released at various ages and will be fitted with different sized transmitters to determine the best reintroduction methods. The Fort Worth Zoo is one of the only zoos in the country to successfully breed the Texas horned lizard. Since 2005, the Zoo has facilitated more than 200 hatchings.


Chiricahua leopard frog

The Chiricahua leopard frog (Lithobates chiricahuensis) is a threatened species found exclusively in isolated areas within Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico. The Fort Worth Zoo is one of two zoos working with this species and celebrated the first-ever successful Chiricahua leopard frog breeding. This is the first time this species has been bred in an entirely captive, indoor environment. Thanks to the careful manipulation of environmental settings, three females laid eggs naturally without the use of hormones. The Zoo sent 456 captive-hatched Chiricahua leopard frogs to New Mexico for release at a reintroduction site. This was the first reintroduction in New Mexico, where the wild Chiricahua leopard frog population has suffered significant declines. Since that first successful reintroduction, the Zoo has released hundreds of Chiricahua leopard frogs back into the historic habitat.


Hellbender

The hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis) is the oldest living amphibian in North America and is experiencing declines throughout its range in the eastern United States. This large salamander is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service candidate for threatened species listing. As part of a headstart program, the Fort Worth Zoo received 20 hellbenders as small larvae in 2007 that were hatched from an egg mass in West Virginia. Four years later, those hellbenders were transferred to Purdue University for reintroduction in Indiana. In 2012, that same group of hellbenders was outfitted with internal radio transmitters and reintroduced. The transmitters track the salamanders in the wild in order to develop methodology for reintroducing this species into the wild.


Pecos River pupfish